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Yesterday's Mistakes ... Today's Misery

D'Arcy McGrath

June 11, 2001

The best way to analyze a hockey team's failure in the present is to look at mistakes made in the past.

Many point to the lack of a seasoned skilled forward in the Flames fold as the key issue in the team's inability to lead itself out of a losing rut.

Teams can't afford to let huge evolutionary holes form in their lineups. The Flames have such a hole in that they haven't a single skilled forward in the 27-30 range of age. In essence they have no rudder.

Each and every draft year needs to produce assets. No single team is going to hit a home run every year, but a player or two must be added to the fold.

When the Flames moved to Calgary in 1980 the team had an experienced group drafted in the mid 1970's that included; Eric Vail and Ken Houston (73), Guy Chouinard (74), Willi Plett (75) and Kent Nilsson (76).

The group represented a great example of a core built through successive drafts, then kept to grow into their prime.

Building Success in the 1980's

The Flames kept the momentum going at the draft table by adding more key pieces in Brad Marsh (78), and Paul Reinhart, Pat Riggin, Jim Peplinski and Tim Hunter (79).

In 1980 the Flames added Hakan Loob to the fold.

In 1981 they drafted Mike Vernon and Al MacInnis,

Picks in the late 1970's and early 1980's provided the building blocks that fueled both of the Flames playoff successes in 1986 and 1989.

The 1989 Cup team consisted of 10 players drafted by the Flames playing a significant role in the team's success.

The team failed to win more championships, but remained within NHL's elite because the maturation of draft picks through the middle of the 1980's including; Gary Roberts, Jiri Hrdina and Gary Suter (84), and Joe Niewendyk in 1985. These players hit their prime in the early 1990's.

Building Futility in the 1990's

From there the well appeared to run dry, leaving the Flames to struggle through the late 1990s' and into the present situation.

From 1986 to 1991 the Flames only managed to secure a handful of players that would go on to play significant roles with the team (Theo Fleury '87, Robert Reichel '89).

The Flames started their string of five years out of the playoffs in the 1996-97 season. The core of the 1997 Flames should have come from the 1988 to 1990 drafts. First and second round picks through that era provided such dazzling names like Jason Muzzatti, Todd Harkins, Kent Manderville, Ted Drury, Trevor Kidd and Nicolas Perreault.

It's easy to see why the team didn't recover as fast as it should have when the draft problem was compounded with only Cory Stillman found in the first two rounds of the next three drafts.

1987- Stephane Matteau, Theoren Fleury

1988- none

1989- Kent Maderville, Robert Reichel

1990- Trevor Kidd

1991- Sandy McCarthy

1992- Cory Stillman, Robert Svehla, Jonas Hoglund

1993- German Titov

1994- none

In a sense the cupboard was bare.

Only three top end players selected in eight years (1987-1994), and a total of only ten NHL regulars.

Simply the Best

For a great comparison we take a look at the Stanley Cup finalists records in the same time frame.

New Jersey Devils?

1987- Brendan Shanahan

1988- None

1989- Bill Guerin, Scott Pellerin

1990- Martin Brodeur, Mike Dunham, Valeri Zelepukin

1991- Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rolston

1992- Jason Smith, Sergei Brylin, Cale Hulse, Stephane Yelle

1993- Denis Pederson, Brendan Morrison, Kristoff Oliwa, Jay Pandolfo

1994- Patrick Elias, Sheldon Souray

A total of 18 NHL regulars in eight NHL draft days, including seven or eight players that could be considered above average, or stars.

Players drafted by Quebec/Colorado?

1987- Joe Sakic, Garth Snow

1988- Curtis Leschyshyn, Stephane Fiset, Valeri Kamensky, Alexi Gusarov

1989- Mats Sundin, Adam Foote,

1990- Owen Nolan, Andrei Kovalenko, Alexander Karpovtsev

1991- Eric Lindros, Rene Corbet, Dave Karpa, Bill Lindsay, Janne Laukkanen

1992- Todd Warriner, Manny Fernandez, Anson Carter

1993- Adam Deadmarsh

1994- Chris Drury, Milan Hejduk

A total of 22 NHL regulars in eight draft years, including eight or nine players above average in their careers to this point.

Draft Position

Clearly a distasteful draft run has spelled doom for the Calgary Flames franchise. A team can't strike out for the better part of a decade at the draft table and continue to stay on top.

A bigger question is; where to lay the blame?

The general manager? Scouts? Director of Player Personnel?

How about success?

The Quebec Nordique franchise was the league's laughing stock from 1987 through 1992, or six of the eight years examined above. In that time they received the best draft position, and with it hauled in a plethora of players.

The Flames on the other hand only failed to amass 90 points once in the entire eight-year span, and drafted near the bottom of the list each and every year. The only season that saw the Flames draft in the top 10 they picked Cory Stillman, a player that has produced in the NHL.

A long sustained period of NHL regular season success is bound to hamper the organization's ability to continue to place players in the pipeline. It's the natural cycle of the NHL.

The New Jersey Devils draft record is the rare exception. The Devils only finished below .500 twice in the eight year span, but still continued to draft top line talent. By doing so they have been able to replace players that price themselves out of their budget or retire.

Looking Forward

Just as the late 80's and early 90's have contributed to the Flames current woes, the late 90's and recent drafts will have a lot to do with the Flame's on ice results in the next few seasons.

Players drafted from 1995 will be the team's experienced core within the next couple of seasons.

From 1995 to 1999 the Flames have drafted Denis Gauthier, Clarke Wilm, Derek Morris, Steve Begin, Toni Lydman, Ron Petrovicky, Daniel Tkaczuk, Rico Fata, Blair Betts and Oleg Saprykin.

Will this group of players emerge as a solid core to build a winning tradition around?

Or will players acquired in salary dumping moves from the 90's, like Jarome Iginla or Robyn Regehr be the difference in the not so distant future?

Time will tell.

At the very least it looks like the Flames most recent draft history has given the team assets, something sorely missed in building the debacle fans are witnessing today.